TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Survivors SPEAK OUT!  Amy Zellmer

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Amy Zellmer – Brain Injury Survivor

1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Amy Zellmer

2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)

Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA

3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?

February 3, 2014 – just shy of my 40th birthday

4. How did your brain injury occur?

I slipped on a patch of ice while walking down an inclined driveway.

5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?

I knew right away I wasn’t OK. I had an excruciating pain in my head where I landed, and my vision was distorted.

6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?

My physical injuries were addressed, but the doctor felt that I had a concussion and that I would be better in 4-6 weeks.

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?


Amy Zellmer – Brain Injury Survivor

I wasn’t in a coma, but I may have blacked out for a minute or two.

8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)? How long were you in rehab?

I didn’t find a functional neurologist until two years after my fall. He was able to help me with my dizziness and balance issues, which I had complained about to every single one of my doctors. Even the general neurologist didn’t do anything for me. I had only had craniosacral therapy up to this point.

9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury
(e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?

My injury caused issues with dizziness, balance, gait, fatigue, overstimulation, brain fog, memory, and aphasia. My fall also caused a dislocated sternum, severe whiplash, and torn muscles.

10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?

My life is definitely different, and I have not yet returned to 100%. However, I now have more energy than I did right after my brain injury, and my memory is increasing.

11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?

I miss having the energy to do all the things I want to do and to be able to work 40 hours a week. I also used to have an “internal GPS.” Now I get lost easily.


Amy Zellmer – Brain Injury Survivor

12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?

I enjoy the friendships I have made and the opportunities I have had to be an advocate and raise awareness about this often-invisible injury.

13. What do you like least about your brain injury?

I dislike not having enough energy to get through an entire day, and I lament the loss of my organizational skills and memory.


Amy Zellmer – Brain Injury Survivor

14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?

Writing has been a huge part of my self-therapy.

15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?

No answer

16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?

I no longer enjoy crowds and noisy restaurants. It’s hard for me to listen to a conversation with more than just one or two people.

17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?

I am my own caregiver.

18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?

I will continue advocating for TBI (traumatic brain injury) awareness. This often-invisible injury is misunderstood by SO many – including healthcare professionals.

19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.


Amy Zellmer – Brain Injury Survivor

I wish I had found a functional neurologist earlier on in my recovery. It took me over two years to get the treatment I needed for my visual problems, dizziness, and balance issues. Also, I wish I had taken someone with me to my early neurology appointments to help advocate for me (plus to be able to remember what the docs said).

20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Our attitude determines our recovery. A positive attitude is a MUST. Even when we have dark days and it seems like we will never get better, we MUST remember that there is always hope. It’s a long road, but the new friendships made with other TBI survivors is worth it!


Amy Zellmer is the author of “Life With a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal.” She also compiled more than 100 stories for “Surviving Brain Injury; Stories of Strength and Inspiration.”


“Life With a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal” by Amy Zellmer


“Surviving Brain Injury: Stories of Strength and Inspiration” compiled by Amy Zellmer


My story, “Nightmare in the Disability Lane,” can be found in Chapter 29 on page 114.

If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI SPEAK OUT! Survivors Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.

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Comments on: "Survivors SPEAK OUT! Amy Zellmer" (3)

  1. Amy, our symptoms are similar as far as balance,or lack there of, dizziness, fatigue, memory, pain, everything. I am glad you have progressed like you have. I was in a coma for 50 days after my tbi. You can read in the details about me on my FB wall if you like.
    It is odd that those who go through this feel the need to reach out to help others going through the process of healing dealing with similar circumstances. I have not written a book, yet, but who knows what the future holds. I talk to many in the chat sites, and that is still part of my therapy, 31 yrs later. I was 18 yrs old at the time of my tbi. I never heard of the functional neurologist before, heck they probably did not exist in 1985/86. LOL. Congrats on your recovery.


  2. I am reading ( which is feat in itself) your book now and I started to highlight everything that was similar to my experience and I realized I would be coloring the entire book!!!! I was hit by someone going at a high rate of speed . She ran the light and she stated she did not see me. I knew immediately I did not feel right. I am not sure if I completely lost consciousness for a brief amount of time, but I was definitely disoriented and confused. The ambulance drivers just said I was in shock, but I knew it was more than that. I did have immediate pain in my neck , back , hip and shoulder that I continue to deal with, but my main concern initially and still is the cognitive issues. I started to notice problems the first week which seemed to get progressively worse as I tried to do more. I am a single mom with 2 girls and a mom in memory care and of course I was not able to get that needed rest which I feel would have helped in my recovery. I am a Physical Therapist and feel I should have known or seeked the knowledge to understand my cognitive injuries more and make wiser decisions following the injury to not hinder my recovery. I am sure you all know at that time you can’t think straight to make these decisions. I didn’t take offers to help us and felt I needed to be able to deal with this on my own! Well my body put me in my place it just shut down . It got to the point I couldn’t handle anything. It kills me how my girls have had to suffer with me. I couldn’t grocery shop or cook or clean. I was so excessively exhausted!!! I couldn’t make simple decisions , do basic math to pay my bills and I would repeat everything! Memory??? What memory there was nothing there. The word finding and loss of thought mid conversation was so embarrassing! You isolate because you are embarrassed and because you can’t handle anything anymore. The dizziness and migraines are debilitating! I tried to work because of financial issues but ended up failing I was not ready or able . This was a disturbing reality. It is all blurry , but for over a year I did vestibular, post TBI/ concussive therapy, speech therapy and then eventually started PT for my musculoskeletal issues which almost two years later I continue. I had shoulder surgery where I couldn’t use my arm for over 10 weeks. I now have an awareness of being on the receiving end of therapy , more than I ever wanted. This has had an effect on all my relationships. It is not all about you if hurts your kids , you lose your friends and your significant other. When all you want to do is go to bed and cover your head and not get up you are not the most pleasant person to be around. There are some days I think maybe I am recovering and then you can’t manage your time, lose everything and get lost on your way to places you have gone so many times and you get a big reality check , no you are NOT better and this may be the person you are now . So now you just have to figure out how you are going to do it . I loved to read , but I still really struggle . My vision issues limit my reading or any computer work. It is hard to read a book when you can’t remember what you tried to read the day before!
    On a positive note !!!’ I am alive! My girls were not in the Jeep with me! They are healthy and I hope resilient ! Sometimes we just have to joke a little about it all or how would we make it through the bad days. HOPE !!! I have hope and I need to open myself up to support. Thanks for your inspiration! The ups and down will drive you crazy!


    • Michele Sunde,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am sure your words will help others. I hope that you continue your recovery.

      Donna O’Donnell Figurski


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